There’s something about Carly.
With Donald Trump and Ben Carson flirting with anti-Muslim xenophobia, Republicans are hungry for an outsider who isn’t out of her mind.
And, fueled by another strong debate performance, Carly Fiorina is burning a path through the GOP presidential field. The former Hewlett-Packard CEO catapulted into second place in a new national CNN/ORC poll taken after the event.
Presidential debates aren’t like spelling bees. The prize doesn’t go to the person with all the answers. The candidate who wins a debate is the one who fills the room with his or her presence, connects emotionally with viewers and makes a lasting impression.
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In the second debate, Fiorina hit three home runs. When she talked about burying a child who succumbed to drug abuse, she displayed empathy toward those who have suffered loss and experienced heartbreak. When she cut off Trump at the knees with a brilliant 35-word response to a question about how the GOP front-runner had recently criticized her looks, she demonstrated both strength and restraint. And when she spoke angrily about secret videos showing Planned Parenthood personnel treating in a gruesome manner the harvesting of baby organs and what it said about our national character, she projected a moral outrage shared by many.
If you want to be elected president, don’t just tell us what’s in your head. Show us what’s in your heart. Fiorina did that, and it paid off.
Another recent poll, conducted online by NBC News/SurveyMonkey, found that 37 percent of Republicans said that, when deciding which presidential candidate to support, what mattered most to them was finding someone who could bring about “change.” About 20 percent said the most important thing was being honest and trustworthy, while a similar share emphasized the value of being a good leader. Only 3 percent said it was most important that the person they chose had the “right experience.”
That could mean experience in politics or the private sector. This finding will frustrate those Fiorina critics who, in their primary line of attack, insist that her rocky tenures as CEO of Hewlett-Packard and a top executive at Lucent Technologies should disqualify her from the presidency.
Trump insisted this week that Fiorina’s surge in the polls will taper off when voters get a closer look at her business record, which he says represents a “tremendous failure” that can’t be overcome.
It didn’t help Fiorina’s public image that, while all this turmoil was going on at H-P, she was living large – flying around on private jets, tripling her salary, and spending lavishly on luxury items. Those optics might bother some people, but I can’t imagine they would mean much to supporters of Hillary Clinton. Along with her husband, she earned more than $160 million since leaving the White House in 2001.
If Fiorina wins the GOP nomination and goes on to face Clinton, they could hold their first debate at Neiman Marcus. In either party, the decision of whom to elect probably won’t boil down to lifestyles of the rich and famous. What really matters is how voters feel about candidates on a gut level.
And if Fiorina continues to connect with voters as she has these past few weeks, this outsider could be on her way to the White House.
Navarrette’s email address is ruben